The `Age of Exhibitions' included the newly independent Latin American nation-states almost from the very outset. This article studies the complex strategies of material and visual display, architecture and writing through which representations of Argentina and Brazil were fashioned at the world fairs. It argues that, as peripheral affiliates of the emergent capitalist world-system, Latin Americans had to negotiate the material and symbolic value of their commodities and cultural samples with a host of agents, including not just foreign audiences but also exhibition organizers, artists, architects, and so on. National pavilions, therefore, rather than being seen as material texts authored by state governments, could be understood as `contact zones', performative spaces for the exchange of objects, gazes and words. The article concludes by comparing the world fairs with trade and industry exhibitions held in Brazil and Argentina themselves. In these, it observes the emergence of a dissident figure of national modernity as `development', challenging hegemonic regimes of value.